A group of students from the graduating class at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine are calling for the replacement of Dr. Ben Carson as commencement speaker for the class of 2013 following his "deeply offensive" comments on marriage equality and other issues.
In a letter obtained by Media Matters, eight members of the school's class of 2013, including a co-chair of the school's LGBT organization, ask their fellow students to sign a petition describing Carson, a neurosurgery professor at the university, as "an inappropriate choice of speaker at a ceremony intended to celebrate the achievements of our class."
The letter has been circulated across Hopkins School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Public Health, and other institutions, according to a signatory.
Carson, who has become a celebrity in recent months among the right-wing media, has come under fire in the media and from members of the Hopkins community since comparing gay relationships with pedophilia and bestiality during a Fox News appearance earlier this week.
His comments were condemned as "nasty," "petty," "ill-informed," "rancid" and "reactionary" by Professor Todd Shepard, the co-director of the university's sexuality studies program. Current and former leaders of the organization representing the LGBT members of the Johns Hopkins medical institutions told Media Matters they found the comments "hurtful" and "extremely discouraging."
One of those leaders, Carl Streed, is among the letter's signatories. Streed represents the School of Medicine among the leadership of the Gertrude Stein Society (GSS), a group of more than 300 students, faculty, staff and alumni of the Hopkins Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Public Health who work to promote LGBT issues on campus.
Media Matters is withholding the names of the other students who signed the letter to protect their privacy.
The signatories say that at the time of Carson's nomination as the class commencement speaker, the professor "was known to most of us as a world-class neurosurgeon and passionate advocate for education" and that many students "looked up to him as a role model in our careers."
But they write Carson's recent comments about marriage equality, his past statements rejecting evolution, and his use of his National Prayer Breakfast platform to issue a speech denouncing Obamacare, "have cast serious doubt on the appropriateness of having Dr. Carson speak at our graduation." While they acknowledge Carson has the right to publicly voice his political views, they write that those views are "incongruous with the values of Johns Hopkins and deeply offensive to a large proportion our student body."
During an interview on MSNBC, Carson apologized if "anybody was offended" by his remarks on marriage equality, and indicated that he might be open to withdrawing as the Hopkins commencement speaker.
In a comment to Media Matters, Carl Streed said that in his opinion, Carson's "voluntary withdrawal as speaker is the best possible solution."
The full letter:
We are writing to express concern about the selection of Dr. Ben Carson as the commencement speaker for the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine Class of 2013.
At the time of his nomination, Dr. Carson was known to most of us as a world-class neurosurgeon and passionate advocate for education. Many of us had read his books and looked up to him as a role model in our careers.
Since then, however, several public events have cast serious doubt on the appropriateness of having Dr. Carson speak at our graduation.
On March 26, on Sean Hannity's Fox News program, Dr. Carson compared gay relationships with pedophilia and bestiality: "Well, my thoughts are that marriage is between a man and a woman. It's a well-established, fundamental pillar of society and no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality. It doesn't matter what they are. They don't get to change the definition. "
On February 7, Dr. Carson used the National Prayer Breakfast speech--which, like our commencement ceremony, is an historically nonpartisan event--to deride Obamacare, advocate lower taxes for the wealthy, and suggest that Christianity requires supporting Republican policies.
Dr. Carson has also used his platform as a famous neurosurgeon to promote the rejection of evolution: "Ultimately, if you accept the evolutionary theory," he said, in a statement that would apply to the majority of students and faculty at Johns Hopkins, "you dismiss ethics, you don't have to abide by a set of moral codes, you determine your own conscience based on your own desires." This belief of Dr. Carson's was unknown to many of us at the time of his nomination.
We retain the highest respect for Dr. Carson's achievements and value his right to publicly voice political views. Nevertheless, we feel that these expressed values are incongruous with the values of Johns Hopkins and deeply offensive to a large proportion our student body.
As a result, we believe he is an inappropriate choice of speaker at a ceremony intended to celebrate the achievements of our class. We hope the administration of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine will select an alternative speaker that better represents the values of our student body and of our great University.